The Art of Storytelling, Part 1

Mike Hawthorne

Words and Photography by Cassie Miller

As long as humans have walked the Earth, storytelling has been a rich, often vital tradition. It has seen humanity through trying times, documented the epics of long-dead legends and provided a source of endless entertainment and inspiration to the starry-eyed among us.

The power of storytelling has not dwindled. From Gilgamesh to Odysseus, to Chaucer and Shakespeare, humans have preserved the essence of cultures through storytelling.

Today, storytelling is done through a multitude of different means. Books, blogs and word-of-mouth are common examples, as are comic books and graphic novels.

Created in the 1930s, comic books have supplied a necessary form of escapism from the demands of everyday life into a world of superheroes, villains and fantasy realms. The medium remains alive and well worldwide with many devotees right here in the midstate.


Print and the Not-So-Traditional

Marvel and DC are the two most popular names in mainstream and traditional comic books. The two companies have their own worlds where superheroes and villains wage wars with their most-detested rivals; Batman and the Joker, Superman and Lex Luther, Spiderman and Green Goblin.

In February, Marvel released it’s first film with anti-hero Deadpool. The self-titled film was a hit earning Marvel $754.5 million globally, smashing box-office records.

Behind that movie and it’s beloved character is a local artist whose daily grind is illustrating the comic books. Mike Hawthorne has been working with Deadpool for the past four years, and in between, teaching as a professor of art at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.

He jokes, “Working on Deadpool and being in an art school is like the closest I’ll get to being a rock star.”

With classes like “Visual Development” and “Anatomy & Comics,” Hawthorne says he sees more connections to college kids and Deadpool than just in his classes.

“College-age kids and younger, for whatever reason, are in love with Deadpool.”

The chaos and disorder of the real-world also make Deadpool’s humor relatable.

“We’re so used to things being good when it seems that there’s this approaching chaos, that we’re not sure how to deal with it or how we fit into it, and I think that is kind of what Deadpool is,” says the York native.

Creative freedom was an important part of working on Deadpool. Hawthorne describes Marvel’s approach,“Nothing is gospel.”

For Hawthorne, working on Deadpool was a perfect fit. He says he relates to the character’s sense of humor and enjoys the action scenes. In a more recent issue, Deadpool faces Black Panther, a character with an intellectual personality. According to Hawthorne, half the fun was the dichotomy of the two characters.

“They’re such polar opposites,” he laughs.

Expressing his admiration for Deadpool writer Gerry Duggan, Hawthorne lapses into describing the self-saboteur that is Deadpool.

“You don’t know why, but you still kind of love the guy,” he explains.

He calls his relationship with Duggan a “lovefest.”

Prior to Deadpool, Hawthorne didn’t stay on projects for too long, citing boredom as his reason for exiting. Since joining the team at Marvel, Hawthorne doesn’t think of leaving.

“I know it’s perfect, and I know that’s rare. I don’t want to mess it up.”

When asked if he desired to work on any other projects, Hawthorne says Wonder Woman would be his go-to project. He exclaims, “I would love to draw Wonder Woman!” In Wonder Woman, Hawthorne sees his late mother who he describes as “fearless.”

A graduate of Temple’s Tyler School of Art, Hawthorne sees the importance of critics.

“Any art needs some form of criticism.”

Beyond that, he cites independent discovery as the best method to learn drawing and expand artistic abilities.

“Let them learn it,” he offers.

Hawthorne’s most recent project is a set of sketchbooks produced by Story Supply Co. benefiting art students at York High School. The illustrations on the cover are Hawthorne’s and are themed “War & Peace.” For every set sold, a sketchbook will be donated to a student at the school. The hope is to eventually grow the project to help art students at other local schools.

Hawthorne reflects on how instrumental it was to have a creative outlet during his youth and created the sketchbooks to provide the same outlet to other kids. The idea came from his art teacher at York High, who told Hawthorne that he could have a sketchbook, so long as he filled it. After filling several, the art teacher started purchasing 200-page sketchbooks to keep up with Hawthorne.

Knowing resources are limited at the school, Hawthorne’s approach gives every child access to sketchbooks and an opportunity.

“I just gotta get them the paper,” he adds.